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December 4, 2018

Who needs cows (or chickens or fish or pigs…)

Jessica Almyy // WTF FOOD

In Douglas Adams’ sci-fi classic, “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy,” diners are invited to meet the meat. The main course introduces itself before the meal: “I am the main Dish of the Day. May I interest you in the parts of my body? Something off the shoulder perhaps? Braised in a white wine sauce..”


It’s a vision of the future, sure, but it misses a key point. Raising animals requires a lot of precious land and water, and contributes mightily to greenhouse gases and other pollution. Our future here on Earth requires a different approach. What if we skip raising animals and instead create plant-protein-based meat, or actual animal meat engineered in a lab? Jessica Almy is the policy director for the Good Food Institute, an industry organization representing producers of these new meat and meat alternatives. When she thinks What the Future, she’s wondering how best to bring these products to us. It’s not overstating it to say our future might depend on the answers.


GenPop: In our survey you wanted to know how ready people are to accept these products. Why is that important to ask?

Jessica Almy: Plant-based and clean meat will be available options that will be appealing to people and easily accessible. And so understanding whether people know what the products are is critical in terms of how we bring them to market.

GenPop: What does a future look like where we don’t have these products?

Almy: Ultimately there’s not enough land on the planet and fresh water to feed a growing population the way we’re eating now. So either the world is going to have to cut back dramatically or we are going to have to find a way to produce meat.

GenPop: What would a meat-cow or meat-chicken-free world look like?

Almy: I don’t think we’re going to get rid of them, but we are envisioning a world where, when consumers go to
the drive-through window or order at a cafeteria or shop in the supermarket, there’s an option that tastes just as good, is cheaper and has less of an environmental footprint.

GenPop: In the survey, we asked about both plant-based and “clean” meat. What are some of the differences in the products and how they are produced?

Almy: Plant-based meat is on the market and has been for a long time, depending on how you define it. There was tofu and tempeh, and then there were veggie burgers that were brown rice or lentils, and now there are very realistic plant-based meats that have the same texture and taste, like the Beyond Burger and Impossible Foods. In contrast is what we call clean meat, which is still made out of animal muscle and that connective tissue, but it is grown outside of the animal. We know that it is absolutely possible, but it is not yet on the market.

GenPop: But we already have veggie burgers…

Almy: Traditional veggie burgers are great, and so are rice and beans. The issue is that meat consumption is deeply personal and cultural, and many people aren’t ready to give up the taste and texture of meat. Products like Beyond Meat and the Impossible burger have attracted investment because they give people the experience of meat but are made entirely from plants.

Jessica Almy

Jessica Almy is the director of policy for the Good Food Institute, a non-profit focused on advancing plant-based and clean meat as safer to eat and more environmentally sustainable.

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14% Share of total greenhouse gases emitted by the meat and dairy industry

(Source: GRAIN)

GenPop: Can it be engineered without cholesterol?

Almy: The initial products will not be any different than conventional meat, but yes, there are players in the industry working to replace the saturated fat within omega-3s, for example, so you have the same burger, but it’s actually good for your heart as opposed to hurting your heart.

GenPop: I would like a cheeseburger that does not kill me.

Almy: There could be a cheeseburger of the future that is potentially kosher. There has been a lot of interest among halal certification agencies, too.

GenPop: What are some of the hurdles facing this industry?

Almy: With plant-based meat, some conventional producers don’t like the product calling itself “meat,” even if it’s clear to the consumer what they’re buying. On the clean meat side, the obstacles are that the regulators are still figuring out how this is going to come to market, what kind of safety reviews will take place, and who will inspect the facilities. There’s a lot going [on], and the decisions that we make right now are going to impact the future of what consumers see in the market. I want to make sure they have all the options they can.

GenPop: Is this a political issue at all?

Almy: We’ve got at least bipartisan support in the U.S. Congress. Two of our biggest champions are Sen. Mike Lee of Utah and Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey, a Republican and a Democrat.

GenPop: How does engineering meat work in terms of cuts of meat?

Almy: I don’t think the first products on the market are going to be a rib-eye steak. That’s a pretty complicated thing to make relative to, say, a meatball. I think you’re going to see meatballs and chicken nuggets and fish sticks, and over time we’re going to see more sophisticated products.

GenPop: What other kinds of meats will we see engineered like this? Boar? Alligator? Ostrich?

Almy: We have a number of companies in the clean meat space focused on seafood. I think we’re going to have an incredible impact on the ocean. There is a lot of attention recently about reducing the use of plastic straws. And that’s really important, but the vast majority of plastic in the oceans comes from fishing nets.

Glossary:
Food innovation allows for new ways of producing meat, clean meat and plant-based meat.

Clean meat, sometimes called cell-based meat is genuine animal meat, with the same taste and texture of conventionally produced meat. Clean meat is produced directly from cells, without the need to raise and slaughter animals.

Plant-based meat is made entirely from plants and has no animal ingredients. This meat is produced using plant ingredients like proteins, fats, and carbohydrates to mimic the taste, texture, and structure of conventional meat.

Personal health trumps environmental health in perceived benefits.

What are the most important reasons why you are interested in trying these products?
(asked of those who expressed interest in trying these products)

U.S. – Clean Meat     U.S. – Plant-based meat

56% / 66%

Health benefits

44% / 44%

Environmental benefits

48% / 48%

Animal welfare benefits

32% / 32%

Food security benefits

38% / 43%

Interest in trying a new product

4% / 3%

Other


Canada – Clean Meat     Canada – Plant-based meat

57% / 66%

Food security benefits

46% / 49%

Interest in trying a new product

50% / 51%

Other

35% / 35%

Food security benefits

34% / 39%

Interest in trying a new product

3% / 3%

Other

(Source: Ipsos survey conducted between Oct. 5 and 10, 2018 among 2,010 adults in the U.S. and between Oct. 26 and 29, 2018 among 1,004 adults in Canada.)

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